Archive for the 'Mental Decline' Category

Excess Weight Linked to Poor Memory in Older Women

The brainIf you want to keep your mind as healthy as possible as you age, pay attention to your waistline.  Evidence is accumulating that excess weight is linked to mental decline in older years. 

A recent study found that postmenopausal women lost one point from their scores on a standard memory test for every point increase in their body mass index, indicating that obesity is linked to a decline in  memory and brain function with aging. 

A 2008 study found similar results. People with the greatest central fat accumulation had almost a three-fold higher rate of dementia 36 years later than those with the least amount.

More Information:

Source: Neurology, March 26, 2008

SOURCE: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, online  July 14, 2010 

Volunteer Activities May Help Mental Decline

Two men playing chessSenior citizens can preserve their memory and cognitive abilities longer if they keep their minds and bodies active, according to a number of experts and researchers. 

A recent study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that volunteer activities appears to delay or reverse declining brain function in older people. Although this study was small, it adds to a growing body of literature suggesting that mentally stimulating lifestyles may help maintain or improve cognitive function in aging people.

Another study has found that people who were free of Alzheimer’s disease in later life were more likely to have engaged in mentally stimulating leisure activities when they were younger. These activities included playing chess, reading books, playing a musical instrument, or learning a foreign language.

An active social schedule also appears to be key to healthy mental stimulation.   A 2008 study from Harvard found that elderly people in the U.S. who have an active social life have a slower rate of memory decline.

SOURCE: “Volunteering Keeps Older Minds Sharp”, MedPage Today, December 18, 2009

SOURCE:  Carlson M, et al “Evidence for neurocognitive plasticity in at-risk older adults: The Experience Corps Program” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2009: 64; 1275–82. 


Excess Fat Around the Abdomen May Increase the Risk of Dementia

Measure your abdominal girth on a regular basisIn addition to the heart, researchers are finding that the brain also appears to be a target organ for the harmful effects of central obesity. In a recent study of 6,600 people, those with the greatest central fat accumulation had almost a three-fold higher rate of dementia 36 years later than those with the least amount. 

This study contributed to the growing body of evidence that centralized obesity is dangerous, even for those who are not overweight.

Excess fat around the abdomen has previously been found to be an independent predictor of diabetes, insulin resistance, coronary heart disease, stroke, and mortality.

More Information:

Source: Neurology, March 26, 2008

A Simple Way to Make a Major Difference in your Health

Vitamin D supplementsA recent study from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah has found that people who increase their vitamin D blood levels to 43 or higher may lower their risk of diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Heralded as “One of the Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs of 2007″, Vitamin D continues to surface in new research as a critical nutrient in maintaining good health and preventing disease, yet almost half of the world’s population has lower than optimal levels of vitamin D.  

It is well known that hip fractures and muscle weakness, in people over 50, are linked with a deficiency in Vitamin D.  Many recent studies have also found that low Vitamin D levels are associated with a number of serious, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, gum disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, peripheral neuropathy, osteoporosis, cancer, stroke, mental decline, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.

A Vitamin D deficiency can be treated with a simple daily supplement and a blood test can measure the circulating Vitamin D levels in your blood.  A level of 30 nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D is considered normal, although this may vary from lab to lab.

Many doctors are routinely drawing blood levels of Vitamin D to to make sure patients are getting enough vitamin D to optimize good bone health and prevent chronic disease. Ask your doctor about this.

Important Note: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, thus toxicity can occur from high intakes of vitamin D. Overdosage can occur from large amounts of supplements or cod liver oil, but it is unlikely to result from sun exposure or diet. Parents should consult with their pediatrician before giving any child vitamin D supplements. Excess vitamin D can reach toxic levels and be harmful.

  Source: “Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good”, HealthDay News, March 15, 2010 


Is Early Alzheimers a Reason to Stop Driving?

Getting lost can easily lead to a car accident

Driving skills may still be intact in early Alzheimer’s, but the risk of getting lost on familiar streets, may be greater than one would think, according to researchers from the School of Occupational Therapy at Pacific University, Oregon. Memory and navigation skills become impaired in early Alzheimer’s while poor judgment and reasoning frequently compound the problem.

In this recent study of 207 drivers with Alzheimer’s who went missing while driving, 32 died and 35 were found injured, while 70 were still not found by the time the data was analyzed.   Most had set off on routine and familiar trips to the post office, the local store or a relative’s house. Once lost, some had driven for almost two days and covered more than 1,700 miles.   One New Jersey couple in the study, both with dementia, got lost on a trip to the store and drove around until they ran out of gas. The husband went for help but was unable to direct authorities to his car. His wife was found dead several days later.

Giving up the car keys is  often a monumental loss for elderly folks who are considered unsafe to drive. Especially for men, it’s a milestone that represents a loss of independence, freedom and control.  Families are frequently put in the difficult position of identifying the problem and enforcing the restrictions. So what is a family to do?  Here are some helpful tips and resources: 

  • This is an important time to seek the help of the elderly person’s doctor.  Have a confidential meeting or phone conversation ahead of their visit so the doctor has a clear understanding of the circumstances.  People often will listen more to their doctor and less to their spouses and children about driving ability.
  • There are many excellent resources for family members available through the Area Agency on Aging.  Call their Senior Information Line at 800-645-2810 for a copy of booklets, brochures, or DVD’s about safe driving with aging.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association offers a web-based program called “Comfort Zone” that families of Alzheimer’s patients can use if the person can still drive safely in familiar places. The driver agrees to limit driving to a “comfort zone,” and a global positioning system (GPS) monitors driving. If the driver leaves the area, the family is notified in real time.

 Read more about “Comfort Zone

Source: Linda Hunt, Ph.D., associate professor, Pacific University, Oregon; Elizabeth Gould, M.S.W., director, quality care programs, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago; March 2010, American Journal of Occupational Health

Source: “Driving With Early Alzheimer’s May Be Ill-Advised”, HealthDay, March 12, 2010

Low Fat Diet Improves Mood

Bathroom ScalesWeight loss alone has been well known to improve mood and sense of well being, but whether one particular diet is better than another has not been well established.

In a recent study, people who followed a low-fat diet had lasting improvements in hostility, confusion, depression, and overall bad mood scores during one year of dieting compared with those on a low-carb diet. 

Both groups of dieters also showed an initial improvement in working memory that didn’t disappear over time.



Read more:

Source:  Archives of Internal Medicine, Nov. 9, 2009

Delay Memory Loss with Brain Exercise

Playing cards with others is mentally stimulatingThe brain is very similar to a muscle in your body–use it or lose it.  Staying active mentally is just as important as staying active physically say leading researchers. 

A number of studies on older people, in particular, who participate in mentally stimulating activities remain cognitively active longer and delay the onset of memory decline.  And other studies have found that younger people with at least a high school education will spend more of their older years without cognitive loss.

Reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, having group discussions, or playing music have been found to be mentally stimulating according to Charles Hall, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. 

Source: Hall C, et al “Cognitive activities delay onset of memory decline in persons who develop dementia? Neurology 2009; 73: 356-361.

Source: “Brain Exercise Might Delay Dementia-Related Memory Decline”, MedPage Today, August 3, 2009

Curry and Vitamin D May Help Alzheimers Disease

An elderly manCurcumin, a polyphenol found in the Indian spice turmeric, and Vitamin D3 may help the immune system eliminate hamful plaques from the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, according to researchers from UCLA, UC Riverside and the Human BioMolecular Research Institute. Their recent study found that both vitamin D3 and curcumin helped stimulate macrophages, a critical part of the immune system response, which appears to help decrease the  buildup of disease-producing plaques in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Turmeric is commonly used in foods such as curry powders, mustards, and cheeses. It is grown as a shrub and is related to ginger.  Turmeric is grown throughout India, other parts of Asia, and Africa. The root of turmeric  has long been used in traditional Asian medicine to relieve a variety of conditions.

In this study, the researchers found that naturally occurring curcumin was less effective than synthetic curcumin, but they also noted that since this is early laboratory research,  no dosage of vitamin D or curcumin can be recommended at this point. Larger vitamin D and curcumin studies with more patients are needed and planned.

A growing body of literature on vitamin D is also shedding light on the importance of this nutrient in the prevention of many chronic diseases.  A simple blood test can measure the circulating Vitamin D levels in your blood, and many doctors are now drawing blood levels of Vitamin D to to make sure patients are getting enough.  Doctors are finding that deficiences in Vitamin D are common, even in those who get daily sunshine and follow a good diet.  Ask your doctor about this.

Read more about Vitamin D from Bay Area Medical Information

Source: Masoumi A, et al “1a,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 interacts with curcuminoids to stimulate amyloid-beta clearance by macrophages of Alzheimer disease patients” J Alzheimer Dis 2009

Source: “Stimulating Immune Response May Help Clear Alzheimer’s Plaques”, MedPage Today, July 2009 



Researchers Question Alzheimers Diagnostic Tests

Healthy and Unhealthy BrainsPlaques and tangles on brain biopsy, post mortem, have been considered classic pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease.   Some researchers are questioning the validity of this finding, however, and a recent study from the UK sheds more light on this theory.

In their recent study, British researchers found that many people in their 90’s had significant plaques and tangles in their brains but still managed to avoid dementia. Their findings were based on the brains of 456 people who had died and donated their bodies to science.  The researchers found a strong link between plaques and tangles in the brain and Alzheimer’s in the 75-year-olds, but the significant association diminished by the time the people were 95.

These findings lend weight to the theory that plaques and tangles might not be a reliable sign of Alzheimer’s Disease.  The study also points out that there is a lot that we don’t know about Alzheimer’s, and dementia in general. 

Illustration courtesy of Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR), a service of the National Institute on Aging.

Source: “Plaques and Tangles May Not Doom the Very Old to Dementia”, MedPage Today, May 27, 2009 
Source: Savva G, et al “Age, neuropathology, and dementia” N Engl J Med 2009; 360: 2302-09.
Source: Ewbank D, Arnold S “Cool with plaques and tangles” N Engl J Med 2009; 360: 2357-59. 
Source: Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation

Binge Drinking Can Damage the Brain

Binge drinking can damage the brainAs little as four to five drinks in a 2-hr period can actually damage the brain and lead to numerous serious health conditions.  

Defined as five or more drinks during a 2-hr period for men or four or more drinks in the same amount of time for women, binge drinking is a common form of entertainment for adults, but also is highly prevalent in our youth.  In fact, one in three high school seniors are binge drinking at least once per month. 

In addition to brain damage, binge drinkers often suffer a number of very serious and significant consequences: 

  • Accidents and injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning) Binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to report alcohol-impaired driving than non-binge drinkers.
  • Intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • High blood pressure, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Poor control of diabetes

In a study from Duke, young binge drinkers were found to have significantly smaller prefrontal cortexes on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain associated with complex thinking, planning, inhibition, and emotional regulation. In this study, the size of the prefrontal cortex strongly correlated with the average number of drinks each individual consumed per drinking episode.

Source:  National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institute of HealthMedPageToday, Sept 2005

Source: Dr. De Bellis et al, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, Sept 2005 Reported in